On December 27, 2012 we learned that the democratic opposition parties and organizations at the behest of MSZP will begin negotiations on January 2 with a view toward creating a common platform. Their first task will be forming a joint declaration of their commitment to “the rule of law, constitutionality and democracy.”
MSZP apparently arrived at the negotiations “well prepared,” claimed Tamás Harangozó, a relatively new face in the party. Lately Harangozó has been in the news as one of the victims of László Kövér’s ire, which prompted the speaker to announce that “the gentlemen to my left should be grateful to be able to sit in this chamber at all.” Later Kövér was forced to apologize. Demokratikus Koalícó’s delegation, comprised of Dezső Avarkeszi, Judit Csiha, and Anna Buzás, a university student, is led by Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of the party.
By yesterday, it became clear that representatives of MSZP, MSZDP (Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt), DK and Együtt 2014 (which by now everybody calls E14) will be at today’s meeting. If all goes well, the negotiations will continue until the parties are ready to nominate candidates for each of the electoral districts, most likely sometime late fall of this year. Viktor Szigetvári, vice chairman of Haza és Haladás Alapítvány established by Gordon Bajnai, will be one of the negotiators of E14. Szigetvári opened the gate to other organizations that might like to join over and above those eight that were initially asked to participate. But already by yesterday we knew that LMP and 4K! would not be at the negotiating table.
Apparently 4K! would participate in the current negotiations only if there were a prior understanding according to which after a victorious election the elected parliament would declare itself to be a constitutional convention. Once the new constitution was adopted, the government would resign and new elections would be held.
Another party that refuses to work with the others is LMP. As András Schiffer confidently predicted this morning on ATV’s Start, LMP will be able to win the elections against Fidesz on its own. All those people involved in the negotiations are politicians of the past who are responsible for the present state of affairs and therefore he refuses to cooperate with them. During his conversation with the reporter he showed himself to be altogether inflexible. LMP, he declared, is true to its original political declaration. It doesn’t matter that circumstances have changed; his party will refuse to change its position. Such inflexibility is a sure sign of a bad politician.
When it comes to members of the delegations there is an interesting development: Péter Bárándy, minister of justice in the Medgyessy government, is heading the E14 delegation dealing with constitutional issues while his son Gergely Bárándy, as MSZP’s legal expert, will represent MSZP’s point of view.
The negotiations began today with a discussion about the rule of law. More specifically, how a new democratic government can handle the situation Fidesz has created in the last two and a half years. After all, a new government can legally change the recently erected far from democratic structure only if it musters a two-thirds majority. I’m sure it will not be an easy topic to agree on. I think that not all people will agree with Viktor Szigetvári (Haza és Haladás) who is adamant on the subject. There are others who see legal loopholes that might circumvent the fairly unlikely occurrence of acquiring such a large electoral majority. Others, I am sure, will argue that the Fidesz political appointees planted for very long tenures could for all intents and purposes paralyze the work of the new government if they remain in their posts. E14 is obviously well prepared for such arguments and came to the negotiating table with a seven-page document. The restoration of the rule of law in the opinion of the E14 leaders is not an end in itself but a beginning.
E14 is also adamant that a new constitution cannot be a document supported by only one half of the population. “Formal legitimacy” is not enough. “Lasting and respected government by all can be created only if it is supported by a significant portion of civil society.” In brief, E14 believes that convincing a large part of the present Fidesz supporters is a must. The legal experts helping E14 are theoretically right in this regard, but looking at it from the perspective of practical politics I find it hard to believe that in a year and a half there will be a real change of heart among the absolutely devoted followers of Viktor Orbán.
There are some specific steps that should be taken immediately after the elections: to put an end to the practice of retroactive laws, to abolish the Media Council, to end parliament’s jurisdiction over the functioning of the churches, and to rewrite the electoral law, including the practice of registration that at the moment is still in the hands of the Constitutional Court. E14 would also restore the powers of local governments, but it wouldn’t abolish the newly established “járás” system. However, the government offices established within that system would be put under the jurisdiction of local governments within the “járás.” Naturally E14 would work toward the elimination of corruption by making party and campaign finances transparent. It also insists on making the documents relating to the Rákosi and Kádár regime’s internal security agencies and their agents publicly available.
According to Origo E14 arrived at the negotiations with an alternative plan for a new constitution. It was apparently Péter Bárándy’s job to outline a constitution that is in line with a modern democratic state. If, however, the opposition isn’t able to come up with a two-thirds majority E14 also has plans for “a more modest constitutional correction” that would include the restoration of the Constitutional Court’s former competence before the Orbán government’s restrictions on it. In addition, they would greatly reduce the number of cardinal laws, i.e. laws that need a two-thirds majority to alter.
After three hours, the word was that the representatives of all the groups agreed on all points. But naturally the devil is in the details. Next week MSZP would like to move on to economic matters, but E14 already indicated that first its representatives would like to close the discussion on the rule of law and the constitution.
In any case, from the few descriptions of the negotiations I read the beginnings sound very promising.